Five Minutes to August

“Just the bare necessities
that’s all I need,” I used to think.
I could hear the wind blowing
and leaves rustling and imagine
the walnut trees bobbing and heaving
like some portly prizefighters
as invisible hands rained body shots
and tickles on their flabby greenery.
Now I see them move left and right,
back and forth and think about
raking all those leaves come October.

It’s only five minutes to August
and I’m concerning myself with
half past Autumn.
Unless you’re Emily Dickinson,
a poet should never use
a roof and four walls as sunblock.
Sure, windows make fine frames,
but horizons gird much bigger pictures.
And you know what? Everything
encompassed beneath
the dome of the sky can be found
in one raindrop.

Two bird-shaped pieces of night
just crossed the sunny length
of the shed roof. I’ve gotta
get out there. You might say
it’s a necessity.

I’ve been stuck, stuck, stuck for weeks. Maybe months. And today I just gave up, though not like I have been giving up. I grabbed the first book of fiction I could find in that bookcase to my right, turned to page 8, transcribed the eighth sentence, and then started writing from there. It ain’t perfect, but it was a subconscious lesson I needed. And I just realized something about this book. It’s “Kafka on the Shore,” by Haruki Murakami, the first book of fiction I bought myself a decade ago to restart my reading life. And that, my friends, is what’s so magical and spooky about this writing thing. Get out. Get out of your own way. Get it out of your system. Get something close to happy.

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Going to Be

“It’s going to be fine,”
she said as she tried to
convince me of that which
she tried to convince herself.
“I know,” I said, because
I figured it’s what I needed
to hear as much as she did.
And that’s the cadence to which
she’ll march, in words as much
as deed, past but never away
from the loved ones we’ve lost.
I’m sure I have it confused
in my wrong-footed way.
“I’m right behind you,” I said,
though I’m uncertain it’ll be okay.
That’s because what I hear is
“Fine. It’s going to be.”
But maybe that’s enough.

Happy Birthday, Lacey Spaczinski

Photo by Prince Abid

Lacey Spaczinski wasn’t sure she could carry it all onto the school bus, but she knew she had to. She couldn’t look bad to the other girls. Not on her birthday.

With great care, she began to climb the three steps from her stop on the corner of Route 9 and Harris Road, where she was the only child picked up. There was no way she was going to let anything happen to the artfully decorated box she held in front of her like it was filled with high explosive.

Lacey peered up at the windows on the bus and saw heads bobbing up from their phones to see who was coming on, but also to see what the colorful thing the farm girl was bringing on this time. The bobbing heads reminded Lacey of the Wack-a-Mole game at the county fair last summer. Sometimes she wished she had one of those rubber hammers to play it while she walked down the aisle to an open seat.

Or at least an open seat where she would be allowed to sit.

“‘Morning, Lacey. What ya got in that pretty box? Here, lemme help ya,” said Mrs. Heim, the driver of the school bus that had this route on the very fringe of Lacey’s district.

“Thank you, Mrs. Heim. Lacey said, carefully handing over the box. These are cupcakes my Grandma made for my class. Today’s my birthday.”

“Oh my, well happy birthday, Lacey. How old are you now” Mrs. Heim said as she held the box so Lacey could do the slip-slide-turn in order to get her heavy backpack around the corner and ready to begin the gauntlet to a seat somewhere near the back half of the bus.

Mrs. Heim handed Lacey her round box and returned to her driver’s seat while Lacey took a deep breath and began her trek down the aisle.

As the bus lurched out into traffic, Lacey fought to keep her balance, her backpack weighing nearly half of what she did, all the while keeping her box level and steady in front of her.

Inside the bus always reminded Lacey of one of her Grandpa’s old truck, the air tasting of fuel oil, leather and sweat. The truck still stood, its wheels resting on concrete blocks, behind the farmhouse where she lived with her Grandma. And she recalled it was on her birthday three years before that she moved there from Des Moines.

“Whatcha got in the hat box, Spaz? Some Little Fairy on the Prairie bonnet from back in Iowa?” sneered Brian Phalen, who was two years older than Lacey, yet in her class.

“You’ll see later, Brian. I promise.”

“What if I wanna see now, Spaz?”

The bus slowed as it was about to make another stop and Lacey almost lost her balance again.

“Lacey, honey, I thought you’d already found a seat. Will you please sit now so we can get rolling?” Mrs. Heim said as two more kids climbed on the bus and headed her way toward friends holding seats for them.

“Will you move it, Spaz? You’re in my way,” said Schuyler Shields, the queen of the bus, whose pubescent ladies in waiting were holding her throne in their section at the rear of the bus.

Schuyler pushed Lacey toward an empty seat on her right and she toppled on top of another student who was studiously ignoring the daily push and pull of rampant preteen, compressed, neo-hormonal conflict there on bus #31.

Lacey’s festive yellow box toppled with her. It’s colorful round top she had worked so hard to decorate with rolled and folded paper strips flipped off and four pink-frosted cupcakes came rolling out onto the lap and phone screen of Jerry O’Rourke.

“Jesus Christ, Spaz. What’re you doing? Look at my screen now. It’s a freaking mess. And, hey…cupcakes!”

Jerry grabbed one of the birthday cupcakes and shoved it into his mouth, paper wrapper and all, biting off about half of it.

“Hey, she’s got cupcakes. I hope you brought enough for the whole bus, Spaz,” Schuyler said, pulling the box from Lacey’s hands. Lacey couldn’t fight the theft. She lay facing up, her legs dangling out in the aisle, trapped between two seats by the weight of her own backpack, as helpless to resist as a turtle on its back.

“Stop! Don’t, those are for my…”

But no one was listening, except Mrs. Heim, who saw the aisle behind her clogged with students and pink balls or something being tossed from seat to seat.

“Hey, that’s enough back there,” Mrs Heim shouted as she made her way down the aisle. “Everyone get into a seat. Now!”

And, as the scrum halfway down the bus began to clear, she saw Lacey’s legs still out in the aisle and her pretty yellow box, empty and bent, between her feet.

“Oh, honey. What happened” Mrs. Heim said as she helped slip the straps of the backpack off Lacey’s shoulders, and pulling her to her feet.

“She pushed me and I fell and my cupcakes, my birthday cupcakes, they took them all.”

“Well, not this one,” Jerry O’Rourke said as he held a lopsided cupcake, it’s festive decoration as smeared and distorted as the expression on Lacey’s face.

“Who pushed her?” Mrs. Heim said, scanning the bus. “Was it you, Brian?”

“Why’s everyone always blamin’ me? We don’t just call her Spaz because her name’s Spaczinski, ya know. Clumsy bitch just tripped and they all came out. I can’t help it if they scattered all over the bus.”

“No, it was…it was…Schuyler pushed me,” Lacey said.

“Wasn’t me, Mrs. Heim. I was just going back to my seat and she just tripped. Amiright?” Schuyler said, looking at the nodding heads of her retinue.

“Okay, I don’t want to hear one sound the rest of the way to school. I’ll be making a report to the assistant super about this,” Mrs. Heim said and headed back to her seat at the front of the bus.

Lacey sat in the seat next to Jerry, her backpack lying at her feet, her yellow box, or what was left of it, on her lap. The salt of her tears mingled with the sweet smudge of frosting on her lips. If she wasn’t so distressed, it would have reminded her of the kettle corn her Grandma would buy her at the fair.

Lacey looked into the box and saw those interior yellow walls now wore smears of pink and white frosting. Not a cupcake left to share with her new classmates. Not a chance to make herself a bit more popular, at least for one day, when they tasted the love she and her Grandma had put into their baking and decorating. Not a chance to be anything other than ‘that new girl from Iowa.”

At school, her teacher, Mr. Smithson, wished her a happy birthday and led the class in a rendition of “Happy Birthday to You,” that sounded as empty and warped as the yellow hat box in her locker.

She thought the day would never end. Or it couldn’t quickly enough.

At dismissal, she boarded her bus and sat in the only seat left to her, backpack at her feet, mangled box on her lap. Once again she was next to Jerry O’Rourke.

“Oh, hi and happy birthday, Spa…I mean Lacey,” he said, looking up from his phone. “Sorry about what happened this morning. Didn’t mean to start a feeding frenzy and all.”

But Lacey only sat there, here head down, staring at her box, looking neither left nor right, up nor down.

“I really am sorry. Last year I was the new kid. And they treated me like shit until they found out I was the guy kicking everyone’s ass on Madden, Minecraft and now Fortnite. Now they treat me with a little respect and some fear when they see me online. I think I know what might bring you a little respect, too,” Jerry said.

“I don’t do video games, Jerry. I do art and bake.”

“Exactly!”

“What’re you talking about?”

“Here,” Jerry said, and pulled that last cupcake, the one he showed Mrs. Heim that morning, from his shoulder bag. “I want you to taste this.”

“I’ve tasted my cupcakes before, Jerry.”

“No, I want you to taste it like you’ve never had one before.”

“What do you…”

“Just do it.”

Lacey dipped her finger into the lopsided frosting and brought it to her mouth for a lick. It wasn’t sweet like cotton candy, nor like sugar from the bag. The butter from which she made it had imparted a slight saltiness to it, though nowhere near like her combined tears and frosting taste from the morning.

“C’mon, Lacey, bite into it with your eyes closed.”

“Oh, all right,” Lacey said, and took a small bite from her cupcake. It still held the moisture and bounce to her bite it would have while it still sat safely in her yellow box. If someone could turn vanilla ice cream into something soft, spongy and warm as the inside of a shoulder bag, that’s what she was cupcake’s flavor spoke to her. That and…

“Hey, is that one of those cupcakes from this morning?”

It was Brian Phelan’s voice.

“Let me tell you, Spaz. Those things were un-freaking-believeable. Best breakfast I ever had. Did you make those?”

“Uh huh,” Lacey said, still with a mouthful of cupcake.

“Well, if you ever make any more, I’d love to have some,” he said, without a crumb of insincerity.

“Lacey, I think we found your hook for respect,” Jerry said. “It’s your baking.”

“And Spaz, I mean Lacey, if you get me some of those cupcakes or whatever you wanna bake, I’ll make sure those bitches leave you alone,” Brian said. “Just sayin’.”

“See what I mean? And I heard two of those ugly step-sisters in the back talking about how pretty this box you decorated was. They’ll never admit it to Schuyler, but don’t be surprised if one of them sneaks up and talks to you about it in art class,” Jerry said.

“So you think that baking to finance Brian’s protection racket and being only acceptable to be spoken to in secret is respect?” Lacey said.

“Baby steps, Grasshopper. At least they know you by more than Spaz now. You gonna finish that cupcake?” Jerry said.

When she got off the bus and walked into her grandmother’s house, Lacey was met by the aroma of cake wafting from the kitchen.

“Welcome home, honey. Did everyone enjoy your cupcakes?” her grandmother said.

“Um, they went fast, Grandma. Everyone loved them.”

“Good. Thought I’d make us a little cake, too. Plus, I left out the bowl if you want to lick some leftover frosting,” Grandma said, pointing to the silver bowl on the kitchen counter.

“Thank you, Grandma.”

“You’re welcome, Lacey.”

“Grandma? Since Mommy went away I haven’t felt like anyone likes me. No one wants me around ‘cept you. I don’t think I could make it without you.”

“Oh, don’t be silly, honey. It just takes time. None of the boys and girls talk to you? Not one?”

“Well, there is one boy. But I think he was just being nice.”

“That’s how it starts, honey. They’ll come around. Just be Lacey. You’re a lovely girl. Cute, smart, have a good heart and you’re…”

“A great baker,” they said in unison and laughed.

“I had a great teacher, Grandma. The best,” Lacey said. She grabbed her grandmother in a hug and planted a kiss on her cheek. It was then she recalled that special something she couldn’t place when she tasted the cupcake Jerry gave her.

It tasted like Grandma, she thought.

This piece is in response to Week Five of Sarah Salecky’s Six Weeks, Six Senses Summer Writing Project. This week, we were asked to use the sense of taste, basing it one three photos. One of them is the fancy box up top of the story. This one was harder than the others, but I was determined to write something. I think I wrote “something,” what it is I have yet to figure out.

Loud Enough

I think I remember what it was like to hear as you do. But now the world communicates with me as if I’m pressing mittened hands over my ears. It’s not like my ears have gone blind to all sound. If I sit in a quiet room I hear a kind of hissing sensation. And if I’ve run for a while, I can hear the thud-up thud-up of my heart pumping the blood uphill to my neck. At least it’s pumping, right?

But if you were outside with an armful of groceries, kicking the front door and to calling, “Cal, will you open the door,” while I’m watching television with my Bluetooth amplifier blowing in my ears, I might not hear you until you drop the groceries on the entryway floor eight feet away. Maybe.

Here’s the thing about slowly losing all your hearing: You don’t really notice it until you start pissing people off. And I’ve pissed off Jenna at an increasing rate for five years.

“Jesus, Cal, didn’t you hear me kicking the door?” Jenna will say. And all I can do is take that sapphire blue laser look of hers right in the eyes and shake my head. 

“No, sorry. The television amplifier was on and my hearing aids were…”

“Stop yelling. Half the neighborhood will think we’re fighting.”

“Sorry,” I’ll say and shut off the receiver around my neck, which brings the whole world back to muffled normal. Well, at least my current normal.

“But I did finish hooking up the baby monitor in our bedroom. The sound-trigger on the warning lights and closed-circuit TV work great. I tossed a basketball in there to be sure.”

“Ohh, that’s great, honey. Now would you put the beets in the crisper and the meat in the freezer?” she’ll ask.

And I’ll do exactly what she said. Until…

“Calvin, what are you doing?”

“Putting the beets in the freezer, like you said.”

“The meat in the freezer, honey. The beets in the vegetable crisper.”

Ohhh, I thought it was odd you’d want to put beets up there. But what the hell do I know? I’m just the deaf guy fucking up around here.”

And then Jenna will step over a couple of bags of groceries and hug me, saying something like, “I’m sorry, Cal. Beets, meats. I should’ve considered what I said before…”

“No, you shouldn’t have to, Jenn. I just have to pay better attention.” Which is true. when you have happened to you what happened to me, you tend to burrow inside and think too much about yourself and how the world doesn’t understand and really can’t take the time to try. Though Jenna’s been an angel, really. Even through my therapy and her morning sickness.

There’s nothing in this world I would love hearing clearly again more than Jenna’s voice. Hearing it without the assistance of these hearing aids, which have become the equivalent of a white cane to a blind guy. Or they will someday when I go totally deaf. The docs tell me they don’t know for sure. 

Sometimes, when the wind’s just right and I strain really hard, I think I hear mourning doves when I walk out to the end of the driveway for the paper at dawn. But instead of their low whistling coo — hoo-hoo-ah-hoo — like I used to make in fifth grade by putting my hands together, keeping space between the palms, and blowing across an opening between my thumbs, it feels more like a tinny syncopated sensation in my ears. 

That’s the best I can describe it. So maybe it’s robins. Or it just as easily could be the hunnh-hunnh-huh-hunnnhof the semis’ horns combined with the whine of their wheels as they pass one another on the interstate. Or the whoooo-whoooo-wuh-whoo over the tick-a-ta-tick-a-ta-tick-a-ta of a freight train crossing Pierce Road a couple of miles from here. But I choose to think it’s the mourning doves.

But I have memories of all the birds, can even recall which thweet-thweet-thweet or pew-pew-pew went with who. I can remember how the tone of Jenna’s dad’s voice went from baritone to tenor and back down again the day she brought me over to introduce me, her new boyfriend. 

I can remember how a bullet going right past your head can sound like a zipping whissss, while one that’s going by ten feet away can crack or pop in a miniature version of a sonic boom. I can tell how the sound of a dual rotor old Chinook helo differs from a single rotor Blackhawk. I can tell you the difference between the sound of an RPG exploding in the vehicle behind you and an IUD going off under the one in front of you. But I only vaguely recall the sound of one that detonated next to my M1151, knocking me cold, killing most of my hearing and two guys on that side of the vehicle.

I also remember the sound of Jenna’s voice when I sat down with her after I was discharged, clean as a whistle on the outside, but pretty fucked up on the inside. She told me she was just happy to have me home. In one piece. At least that’s what I think she said. I’m pretty sure.

Things haven’t gone as well as she planned when she said she’d stick with me through it all, though. I mean it was going to be tough enough with me Black and her White, Italian no less. But, son of a bitch, she’s stronger than I could ever be, which is why we had another sit-down six months ago when she told me we were pregnant.

“Cal, I want to have your child more than anything I’ve ever wanted besides getting you home, but I can’t lie. I worry about things. You have this way of staring at me when I’m speaking to you — there’s that look right now. It’s like you’re saying, ‘I hear you, Jenn,’ but I can’t be sure you really do.”

“I know, but I’m hearing you now, Jenn. And I understand you…”

“And there are other times I think you hear one thing, but it’s the exact opposite of what was said. That’s the thing that scares me. Especially with the baby coming,” she said.

Don’t think I hadn’t considered all those things when I got home. Some days I thought she’d be better off without me, others I’d be better off without her. But I kept coming back to the same answer.

“Jenn, I understand what you’re afraid of. I am, too. There are times you say you love me and I miss it. And that must hurt you awfully. But that’s just hearing. We can find workarounds for that. I’m sure of it. But know this, I don’t want to live without feeling your words bumping up against my ears, freezing and teasing, scolding and holding, their temperature and speed sometimes more important than their meaning. They bump up against me and fall away so I have to imagine their meaning and insinuation. But they’re yours and I can’t live without feeling you there one way or another.”

So we are doing our best, despite meats and beets. And last week, when Jenna delivered little Bella the sound of her first cry was the sweetest thing I ever heard. Well, at least the vibration of it reaching more than the two tiny sets of bones and other machinery in my head. Heard it like I hear her Mom.  Warm and loud enough.

My first draft response to Sarah Salecky’s Six Weeks of Senses fiction project. I just finished this in about an hour and a half. It was slow and it was difficult to get going on because I couldn’t find a story in me to use the sense of sound I wanted. Maybe it’s because I can’t hear worth crap. Hearing aids in both ears. So I “wrote what I know.” 

Staring At the Sun As If Through a Smoke Hole

Miriam Buskirk pulled her mother away from the front room of their cabin and said, “Joshua just sits there staring. He sits so closely and stares at the fire. He lays in the fields at noon and stares at the sun. He stares at the river. He hasn’t said but five words since he got back and I couldn’t understand a one of them.”

Her mother Amanda put her arm around her daughter’s shoulder and quietly said, “The poor boy has been living with the savages for nine months. Who knows what they did to Joshua, or what horrors he’s seen. For all we know he saw them kill your and his poor father, my beloved Marcus, and that’s enough to make anyone act queerly when they come back to civilization.”

They both turned when they heard the creak of the chair across the plank floor. They watched as sixteen-year-old Joshua Buskirk rose from where he’d been sitting for the past hour and shuffle toward the door. So close had he been to the flames, they had scorched the skin of his face red. With his head down, he mumbled something into his linsey-woolsey shirt and stepped out into the midday sun.

“There he goes again, Mother. How long do you think this will go on?” Miriam said.

Amanda Buskirk, watching her son disappear over the rise toward the east, seemingly to go meet the sun before noon, said, “Until it doesn’t I guess. At least I don’t worry as much about him running back to the Mohawk again. But just running…?” She left the remainder of that sentence to hang in the breeze from the open doorway just as Joshua disappeared again over the hill.

Joshua strode through the tall grass and wildflowers over the hill and plopped down in the bare spot he had made there after a fortnight of rejoining his mother and sister. As he leaned back, he was proud to see how he still hadn’t given up the beaded moccasins he wore when he returned to the Buskirk farm after traders sent out by the Great Patroon, Van Rensselaer, found him in the village of Ossernenon. 

*  *  *

“We thought you were dead, boy,” the fur trader Markus Eikenboom said to Joshua when he was allowed to speak to the boy. But Joshua was silent. 

“Don’t you know your own tongue anymore, boy?” Eikenboom said to even more silence. “Where is your father, son? The Patroon will want me to buy back his freedom, too.” 

Joshua turned and walked back to the lodge of the family that had adopted him, only saying one word: “kanién:tara.”

“What does that word mean?” Eikenboom asked his Mahican guide.

“River,” was his reply.

*  *  *

Joshua lay on his back and stared into the white disc of the sun as it crossed over the hilltop and moved what little shadow he threw from west-leaning to east. If his mother had let Miriam follow him, she would have seen him blinking as the sunlight teared in his eyes. When she had watched from afar, Miriam had told her mother, “Joshua just lies there like he is dead, Mother.”

After that day’s morning had passed into afternoon, Joshua arose from his place beneath the surrounding high grass and made his way down to the swift-flowing Schoharie Creek. It ran past the Buskirk farm on its way to marry with the river the Dutch had named for his people, for he still thought of the Kanien’kehá:ka as his family. Most especially since the death of his father.

That’s the one part of his old life with Miriam and Mother that stuck with him after he and his father were captured by a Mohawk hunting party while the Buskirk men were setting their own trap lines almost a year before. After the Mohawk warriors brought Joshua and Marcus to Ossernenon, each was suffering from the pace, rough treatment and, especially to Marcus Buskirk, the general arrogance of their captors.

“I am surprised these savages have not yet killed us, Joshua,” his father said on their first night in Ossernenon. 

“Perhaps they will let us go if we just do as they ask, Father,” Joshua said in the glow of the fire in this section of the longhouse where his captors’ family lived.

“Do not, under any circumstances, lower yourself to the level of these savages, Joshua. They are fit only as providers of furs to the Patroon and will be someday be subjugated to our strength soon enough. We should let them know we will not be cowed by their haughty and violent ways.”

“But the one they called Shawátis seems to have treat us better than the other men. Perhaps we can convince him to…”

“Enough, Joshua! We are Christian men and, as such, tower over these animals. Why, with but one dozen militiamen, I could wipe this valley clean of their pestilence,” Marcus Buskirk hissed. “And should I make my escape, that is exactly what I intend to do.”

Joshua stared at the flickers of sunlight on the Schoharie, lost in its hypnotic dance, as if it was how the light twinkled in the eyes of Shawátis’ children. Then he clenched shut his eyes and tried not to see that day when his father, sent out to gather squash and beans with the women, picked up a rock and brought it down upon the head of Shawátis’ oldest son, who was not quite Johua’s age, and had been guarding the women from any intruders from the forest. Marcus then ran from the field and headed for the river, leaving Joshua behind with the other boys, who were learning to make bows from one of the elders.

After a group of the men chased down and brought Joshua’s father back to the village, Marcus Buskirk’s face showed signs of a severe beating, though he was still alive. Not so Shawátis’ son, who had fallen dead from the blow Marcus had delivered.

“I should kill this man who took my son from me,” Shawátis said. “Or perhaps I should kill his son. Or even both, my grief is so deep.”

The men agreed and said the white man deserved any of those punishments. But then the grandfather of Shawátis’ clan stepped forward and said there might be a better way to solve this dilemma with some sort of natural justice.

“Let us make these two fight for the right to live. The boy has grown strong in our family in the months since he came to us. The man has grown more and more of a problem. If, Shawátis, you will agree, we will allow them to fight and then the victor will be allowed to stay, The loser, should he survive, I will leave to your best judgment.”

The men all yelled their consent, since their’s was a warrior society, enlightened and noble, but warriors nonetheless.

“Cannot war father,” Joshua shouted in his broken Mohawk. But Shawátis nodded in approval of the elder’s proposal. As the crowd of warriors pushed the Buskirks to the fire at the end of the longhouse, Joshua didn’t recognize the man through the flames as his father. 

It wasn’t the face swollen and bruised from the beating at the hands of the warriors. It wasn’t the ragged woolen clothes his father never stopped wearing in the months since their capture. It was his eyes, enraged, unknowing, mad, the eyes of a man who had killed a child earlier that day and looked like he would do it again. And then that man jumped through the fire at Joshua.

Knocked back onto the hard-packed dirt floor of the longhouse, Joshua looked up and blinked at the sun shining down into his eyes from the smoke hole in the roof. And then there was that face again.

“You’ll be better off dead than living with these savages, Joshua,” he heard his father say. Marcus Buskirk wrapped his hands around Joshua’s neck and squeezed. Joshua grabbed at his father’s arms to break his grasp. He scratched at the crazed eyes to no avail. Reaching back over his head, Joshua felt the cubby in which his Mohawk family stored firewood. He grabbed a piece of the kindling and swung with whatever strength he had left. His makeshift club found its mark on the side of his father’s head and the older Buskirk, still aching from his previous beating sagged.

Joshua scrambled to his knees and out of the longhouse, gasping and wheezing as many of the longhouse residents followed him into the sunlight. Not far away he could see the Schoharie and for a moment he wondered if his mother, somewhere downriver, knew if he still lived.

He felt his father’s fist on the back of his head and all went dark for a moment. Face down in the dirt, he dimly saw his father’s boots walking next to him and he saw the rough hand in the ragged sleeve pick up another rock and expected to hear the sound of the rock on his skull and that would be it.

But the sound of a rock hitting bone did not proclaim Joshua’s death. Rather it was the end of Shawátis’ war club coming down upon Marcus Buskirk’s head that cracked through Joshua’s foggy consciousness. He saw the men lift the body of the raggedy man who once loved him, often disciplined him like an Old Testament elder, and had just tried to kill him as Abraham would have Isaac, but for the intercession of God. And now God had interceded in Joshua’s death at the hand of his father.

“I did not like that man and I should have killed him when we caught him trapping in our country,” Shawátis said. “A man who would kill a child, one who was protecting his little sisters, is not a man, is not someone who should live with civilized people. I am sorry, young Yoshoo, but he had to die. Now, if you wish, you may join my family.” 

Joshua pondered this each day since he had been returned to his family’s farm on the Schoharie. Every day, just as he had in Ossernenon. But here it felt different, as if he really didn’t belong there anymore. The widower Cornelius De Groot from the farm just downriver from the Buskirks’ had already been sniffing around Amanda for months, according to Joshua’s sister, even with the fate of Marcus still unknown.

A dugout canoe lurched upstream from around the bend in the creek. In it, three young Kanien’kehá:ka were paddling their way back from the mouth of the Schoharie where it emptied in the Mohawk River.

Joshua raced to the river bank, waving and shouted, “Kwe. Hánio kén:thon, iatate’kén:’a.”

The young men looked up to see the white boy greeting them and asking them to come near. Curious, they paddled closer, yet stayed in deeper water.

“Where are you headed, brothers?” Joshua asked.

“Home to Ossernenon. Aren’t you..?”

“Yes, I am the son of Shawátis. Could you take me with you upriver?” Joshua said.

“If you wish,” said the young Mohawk in he bow of the dugout. “Where is it you need to go.”

“Home. To Ossernenon,” Joshua said before he waded into the Schoharie, looked once more at the sun as it began its decline over the hill, behind which his mother placed another log on the fire.

Well, so much for writing a story a day in May. Lost my mojo, as you probably can tell from this very fast free write first draft I began this rainy afternoon. There was no prompt that I know of. I just needed to write a story. So I did. Maybe. Hey, it’s a true first draft. Check your Hemingway quotes for what these are worth.

April, So Cruel

The rain’s laying
its restorative hands
upon the lands
surrounding my old house.
Our long winter has left
this pillow upon which sets
my only treasure a scratched
and motley patch
of tan, brown and olive.
April’s poetic showers
have only just arrived,
with May a week away.

Poor May, tasked with
completing the work
of two months in its 31 days,
scurrying along April’s
grass shoots, the crocuses
and daffodils, as well as
nursing its own tulips and lilacs.
April’s cold and snowy sloth
has shifted its cruelty
just as an October would
in blowing its leaves
into November’s yard.

This is probably a make-up poem for Day #22 of this month, sliding into the gap caused by my trip to North Carolina. It was supposed to be a “plant” poem, which i guess you could say it is tangentially, but it turned into a mild screed on how this winter has stretched its frozen fingers into a whole lot of the calendar’s Spring. But Nature can’t tell time and that calendar page beginning with A is just more junk for me to rake up this weekend…if it stops raining. Story/poem coming up in a bit for Day #27.

You Are Here

Every Place is a Face,
by Ed Fairburn

There were six of us,
a number now decreased to four,
of which I’m still the oldest.
And while some may think
holding that position
has hereditary privileges, it also
has its responsibilities and duties.
Or at least it did for me.
If you take the role seriously,
you’re the one who will mind
the second or third littlest —
change them, feed them, keep
the roar down to a rumble —
since Mom will be elbow deep
into the youngest’s care.
At seventeen, I ran away
to a college out west (well,
Rochester), giddy with the thought
that finally I’d be alone to fend
for myself and invent the guy
I might really be, or wanted to be.
All I was sure of was he looked
just like me. And that was the problem.
No matter how hard you try,
eventually you’ll look at that guy
in the mirror and see a nose like Dad’s
and your sisters’s, eyes brown as Mom’s
and your brother’s. A map of the place
only your family lives. And you
might as well admit it, that face,
no matter who resides behind it,
always leads you back to your family.
And that’s where you’ll always belong.

For Day #8 of April, 2018’s PAD Challenge, we were to write a family poem. That one cuts deep for me in so many places and so many ways. And I mean cuts. You can see the roads and rivers and other signs of man and God as they trod from my expanding forehead to my sagging chin. Or at least I see where we’ve been. ‘Nuff said.